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Image Entertainment presents
"Swan Lake is considered one of the classical ballet's greatest challenges for a ballerina. In one performance, she really dances two roles: the tender, lyrical Odette, the white swan of the second act, and the steely, scintillating Odile, the black swan of Act III."
DVD ReviewSwan Lake is certainly one of the great warhorses of the ballet, and it's kind of amazing how much variation can be fit into its storyline. This version by the American Ballet Theatre, performed at the Kennedy Center, originally aired on Great Performances, and it's a compelling watch for those new to the ballet and those who've seen this ballet a hundred times.
The story is adapted from an old Russian folk tale. Princess Odette (Gillian Murphy) is captured by the evil sorcerer Rathbart (Isaac Stappas) and cursed to be changed into a swan. Young Prince Siegfried (Angel Corolla) is being pressured by his mother (Georgina Parkinson) to find a bride. Irritated, he runs out into the woods and finds Swan Lake, where Odette has become queen of the swans. He learns that only by someone swearing eternal love to her can the spell be broken, and he does so. At a ball, numerous princesses are paraded before the prince, who shows little interest. But when Rathbart, in human form (Marcelo Gomes), arrives with his daughter Odile (Murphy), enchanted to resemble Odette, Siegfried is deceived. Swearing love to Odile, and betraying Odette, he may have condemned her to spend the rest of her life as a swan.
As host Caroline Kennedy notes, this is one tough role for a ballerina, but Gillian Murphy is more than up to the challenge. Her Odette in Act II is severely controlled, a fascinating exercise in character, in comparison to the flamboyant and cruel Odile. Not only does she execute the famous 32 fouettes near the end of Act III without problem, but she throws in a couple of extra spins for good measure. Terrific as she is, even Murphy is outdone by Angel Corolla, who makes a marvelous Siegfried. Both athletic and graceful, he conveys youth and vivaciousness flawlessly and his stunning handsomeness is perfect to convey the naïvété of Siegfried; one completely buys that he is dazzled by Odile and fooled by the witchcraft of Rathbart.
The supporting cast is fine as well; the various Rathbarts are striking with a firm determination that underlies the wickedness of the character. If there is a weakness here, it's that the Act III human Rathbert is a shade too dainty; I would have liked to have seen some of the force of will seen in Stappas' performance echoed in the solo of Gomes. The flowing movements of the partygoers at the first act birthday party are gorgeous. The familiar Act II dance of the cygnets combines the awkwardness and eagerness of youth nicely. The second act swan dances can get a bit tiresome in such productions, but there is enough variety in artistic director Kevin McKenzie's choreography (based on the classical original of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov) to keep the eye focused at all times.
The set and costume design are striking from the first instant. The backgrounds are like gigantic watercolors, with an element of Caspar David Friedrich in the massive suns and moons that frequently appear. Rathbert's demonic costume is inspired, a combination of ram's horn, bat wings, and vegetation that makes him look like some hell-spawned Puck.
The intermission features brief interview segments with McKenzie and Murphy and a couple remarks by Corolla. Kennedy offers an outline of the action two acts at a time for those unfamiliar with the ballet. The ABT production uses a new and different finale (no clichélike the Pavlova dying swan here) that's quite effective and somewhat tear-jerking as well.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The performance was shot in 16:9 high-definition video, and much of that quality comes across on this standard definition DVD. There's a huge amount of detail and texture for a stage performance, and colors are eye-poppingly vivid and stable. Blacks are extremely rich but there's fine shadow detail as well. Absolutely stunning on every count.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are provided, with a 2.0 Dolby track to boot. Other than the 2.0 version feeling a little thinner, I was hard pressed to tell a difference between them, frankly. All three are recorded at quite high levels, and are fairly loud even at modest volume settings well below reference. Range is phenomenal and the clarity of individual instruments in the orchestra is frequently astonishing. There's terrific presence and detail, giving one the feeling of sitting front row center. The solo violin in acts II and III comes across with vital immediacy, and the pizzicati in the Act III dance of Rathbart feel like they're right there in the room. First class.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:13s
Extras Review: There are no extras. Chaptering is quite reasonable, with 29 stops. But the DVD suffers from the most insanely placed layer change I've ever had the misfortune to run across: it's smacked into the middle of the final note of Act II! At least have the common decency to slap it over the applause, which no one cares about, and not capriciously toss it onto the final note of a beautiful perfomance. I find it hard to believe this was done to an otherwise exceptionally wonderful disc. And it's unforgivable that Image's quality control people did not catch this error. I am forced to recommend the disc due to its other magnificent qualities, but this crude bungling makes it difficult to do so.
Extras Grade: F
Final CommentsA splendid performance with a marvelous video and audio transfer. There are no extras but the principal defect is that the disc sports the Layer Change from Hell.
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